Saturday, March 31, 2007

The Law of the Green Man: Part Eleven

It had all been so quick and so brutal. Lady Sylvia spent all the time on the train from Thorpe Station thinking about the crumpled body of Sir Harold Rait on the carpet of his library. In the the house he had stolen. She left the train at Diss, taking a cab back to Mainstone, the house she shared with her brother, Lord Ambrose Vaughan. A rambling house of many periods, subject to a vain attempt to impose an architectural unity by a Victorian make-over.

She took a long stroll in the garden, trying to restore a little peace to her troubled soul. Sir Harold had been killed in cold blood, executed, rather than slain in a terrible conflict. And that disturbed Lady Sylvia. It was a pity that her brother was absent, or he could have reassured her.

She ate her supper in silence, disturbing the cheerful maidservant who brought her food to her. The same girl helped to put the young brunette to bed, drawing her bath and laying out her night-things.

Despite her best efforts, Lady Sylvia found it very hard to get to sleep. Accordingly, when the 'phone rang after midnight, she sprang out of bed and ran down the stairs.

"Mainstone!" she announced breathlessly, snatching up the receiver.

"My dear Lady Sylvia!" The person on the 'phone laughed threateningly, "how nice to hear from you."
"Who are you?" Lady Sylvia's breath caught in her throat.
"You mean you don't know?" the voice laughed some more. "The assistant of the Green Man - his accomplice in murder? Why, I am the Leech. I am Sir Harold Rait - the man you murdered!"

Friday, March 30, 2007

The Law of the Green Man: Part Ten

Sir Harold gazed, open-mouthed at the threatening figure who stepped forward from the french windows.

"Who are you?" he demanded.

"I am the Green Man," came the threatening reply. "The punishment of the wicked and the doom of evildoers. And I do not need to ask who you are, Sir Harold Rait, alias the Leech. You have bled good men, brought them to the end of themselves. This house, your wealth, all are stained with the blood of others."

"And you can cleanse it?" the businessman scoffed. "How?"

"By your blood." The Green Man was unyielding. "Even today, after you were warned, you tried to blackmail a girl you lusted after.

"You wouldn't kill me with her as a witness, though," Sir Harold smiled unpleasantly.
"Actually," Lady Sylvia pointed out, "he would. You see, I work for him. I happen to be his agent."

Sir Harold Rait turned white. Lady Sylvia had to laugh at his discomfort.

"But enough," the Green Man raised his gun. "Your sins have found you out, Sir Harold. And when the Police find you, they will find your safe burned out. And they will know that the Green Man has visited vengeance upon you."

The gun spoke only once. But that was enough, Sir Harold slumped to the floor, a neat bullet hole in his chest.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

The Law of the Green Man: Part Nine

Lady Sylvia changed into the riding kit that she had adopted as her fighting costume. Walking swiftly towards the hall, the young aristocrat made her way up the drive, her boots crunching on the gravel.

Striding up to the front door, Lady Sylvia pressed the bell with confidence. From his tone, it was clear that Sir Harold was expecting a frightened, trembling child. Well, he would find just the opposite. This was Lady Sylvia Vaughan he was tangling with - the Green Man's agent.

A butler opened the door, looking at Lady Sylvia with some surprise. She only smiled back innocently.

"You probably know who I am," she told him. "Sir Harold expects me."

"Lady Sylvia," the butler nodded, ushering her into the hall.

She followed the butler across the great marble hall, and into the library which the Green Man had burgled the night before. Sir Harold was there, smiling.

"It's nice to see such a prompt response, Lady Sylvia," Sir Harold took a step towards her. "Especially from someone who was so cold last night."

"You were a swine," Lady Sylvia replied bravely.
"Maybe I am," he shot back, "but you are going to give yourself to me. Because if you disobey me, then your brother will be destroyed."

"How?" she demanded.

"Because I know about that bribe he paid to get that contract," Sir Harold smiled wickedly. "And the girl who he had committed to the asylum."

Much to Sir Harold's surprise, Lady Sylvia began to laugh, her musical laugh began to echo around the halls, as her head tilted back, trim shoulders shaking.

"What?" the blackmailer demanded.

"You're a fool!" she stold him. "You see, that story was a plant. If you go public with it, Lord Ambrose will sue you for all you're worth!"

"A brave statement, Lady Sylvia," Sir Harold shook his head, a wicked smile on his sensual face. "But I just don't believe you. Why should that story have been given to me."

"Because, Sir Harold, I needed to find out if you were the Leech. And now I know for sure."

Sir Harold turned very slowly, the colour draining from his face. There, by the curtains, was the sinister figure of the Green Man.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The Law of the Green Man: Part Eight

Lady Sylvia slept deliciously late. When she awoke, the young aristocrat could hear the healthy bustle of the village, housewives shopping, carts on the road outside the inn, birdsong, and ducks on the mere. She picked up a book from her bedside and leafed through it, reluctant to leave the safety and warmth of her bed.

If there was any justice in the world, she reflected, then the Green Man would have bumped off the ghastly Sir Harold. But there was more to this campaign than that.

Lady Sylvia rose slowly, stretching as she swung her legs off the mattress. She felt deliciously lazy, as she lay down again for a moment. Another day of being just a lazy aristocrat, riding, golfing or another way in which she might be able to keep an eye on Sir Harold. Maybe, she reflected, he'd shoot himself.

She had just put on her slippers when the 'phone rang. Jumping out of bed, Lady Sylvia crossed the room in a couple of bounds.

"Hullo," she spoke swiftly, "Lady Sylvia Vaughan."

"Good morning, Lady Sylvia."

Much to the brunette's surprise, the voice was not that of the Green Man. It was the civillised, sensual voice of Sir Harold Rait.

"Oh!" Lady Sylvia could not keep herself from emitting a little squeak of shock.
"Yes," Sir Harold laughed. "I want you to come here. I have a little secret to share with you."

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The Law of the Green Man: Part Seven

The Green Man smiled beneath his mask, unflinching at the sight of the weapon. Another person had caught up with the Leech!

"If you seek the Leech," the Green Man told the lady, "he is not here. I am the Green Man. I live to bring punishment upon the wicked, to make them suffer, as they have made others suffer."

"How do I know?" the woman demanded.

"Go out of this room and look for Sir Harold Rait," the Green Man told her. "This is his house, and he is the Leech. Now, who are you?"

"Lady Flemming," she told him. "This house was my husband's until the Leech broke him. He died three days ago, releasing me from any restraint. I came here to kill him."

"That's funny," the Green Man chuckled. "You see, I mean to kill him as well."

"Green Man!" Lady Sylvia shot through the door, looking concerned, "Sir Harold just tried to kiss me! I'm not staying here a moment longer!"

"Just distract him for a moment, my dear," the Green Man nodded. "And then hit him. I'm just about to leave."

"Great!" Lady Sylvia sighed, "so I still need to let the big brute maul me!" She stopped suddenly, starting. "And who's the armed lady?"

"Lady Flemming," the Green Man told her, "she came here to kill Sir Harold."

"Don't bother," Lady Sylvia told her, "you'd only get hurt - or caught. Let us do it. We won't."

And, with that, Lady Sylvia breezed out of the room. Lady Flemming looked at the door, open-mouthed.

"Was that Roger Vaughan's daughter?" she asked.

"Yes," the Green Man told her, drawing a card from his jacket. "Now, we have to depart."
By the time the party ended, Sir Harold Rait's face hurt where Lady Sylvia had slapped him. He sank down into the seat behind his desk, looking at the strewn papers.

Then he saw it. The open safe, and the card on his table. The words caused the colour to drain from his face. He no longer thought the threats were a joke.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Sunday Supplement: Be Sure your Sin will Find you Out.

Sir Richard Arcos Reports: After returningfrom a gruelling expedition into the very heart of Africa (we were going to Wisbech, but the wife took a wrong turning off the A47), I found a new assignment from the Green Man. While Lady Sylvia and the other lasses find this means danger and adventure, for me it means finding a likely-looking church and sitting through a service. In this case it was local, Jayfield Methodist Chapel. Sitting just off the village Green, it is pleasant enough. The minister, Edward Bryan, is new and well-regarded. At least he was.

But enough intoroduction. As preparation for this visit, I listened to some recordings of him. The sermons were good and powerful. And well they might be - I recognised them as Sermons preached by John Wesley! The man had been reading Wesley's sermons to his congregation, instead of doing the leg-work himself.
So, in preparation for the service, I broke into Mr. Bryan's house at three o'clock on Sunday morning. The advertised sermon was on 1 Corinthians 12:31, and I found the marked place in the volume. Very carefully, I cut out one of the pages, before driving off, whistling a merry tune.
Fortunately, the wretch didn't bother to read the sermon through before the service. After the opening hymns and prayer, he began to preach. After some minutes he quoted George Herbert:
'Take thy meat; think it dust; then eat a bit,
And say with all, "Earth to earth I commit.'
'This,' the fraud intoned gravely, 'is too melanchoy: it does not suit with that cheerfulness which is highly proper at a Christian meal. Permit me to illustrate ... religion, but even to human nature. One would not pass so severe a censure on the sports of the field....'
Soon after this, the esteemed layabout began to realise that his discourse had jumped to another subject without his realising it. After some time, I rose and with a sigh informed the minister that I had the missing page, which I brandished and read in the hearing of all, before bidding the minister to pick it up again.
But he had fled, so I ascended the pulpit and preached extempore for six hours.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

The Law of the Green Man: Part Six

The Green Man found the open door easily, and slipped inside, his feet making no sound on the carpeted floor. His objective was Sir Harold's private study, and thatnks to an article about the house in Country Life, the Green Man knew exactly where to find it. An ancient room, lined with books, it spoke of a far deeper learning than Sir Harold Rait had ever possessed, being left ove from the family who had held it before they had been broken by the incessant demands of the Leech.

Locating the safe was almost as easy, the long shelf full of large nineteenth-century German theology had to be the place, for no-one would ever look at those books again.

The Green Man was unsurpised by the safe. It was large and electronically locked, the sort that paranoid men buy. It was also quite easily unlocked. Not long after she had taken the job of Secretary to the Green Man, Ms. Madison had devised a computer programme that could unlock a safe in a matter of seconds. The mighty door swung open, revealing a great many files. The Grren Man extracted one, and began to read.

There was more than enough there to convince the Green Man that he had not targeted an innocent man. The file was on a stockbroker, who apparently kept a misstress. All the sordid details were there, including photographs. The Green Man could not suppress a snort of disgust.

"Ashamed of your work at last!"
A voice behind the Green Man caused his eyes to widen. There, an outraged expression on her face, was a woman. And she held a pistol in her right hand.

Friday, March 23, 2007

The Law of the Green Man: Part Five

The uniformed flunkey greeted Lady Sylvia with a deep bow. The young aristocrat smiled, walking into the hall of the old manor house. The man announced 'Lady Sylvia Vaughan!"
Lady Sylvia was greeted by the tall, patrician figure of Sir Harold Rait. She curtseyed, presenting him her hand. This he kissed slowly, looking up into the eyes of the brunette.
"A pleasure to meet you, Lady Sylvia," he greeted her. "My house is truly graced by your presence."
"Flattery," she told the industrialist, will get you just about anywhere." She tried to add a slight simper to ber voice. "What's the party in aid of, Sir Harold?"

"Another record year for Rait Industries," he told her. "To what do I owe your presence?"
"A holiday," she told him. "I happened to be in the area and heard about the party. Have you ever heard of my missing a party in the area?"
"There you have me," the industrialist smiled gently. "Now, you'll have to excuse me, but I have to get back to the Ambassador."
And that was fine by her. As swiftly as she could, Lady Sylvia slipped out of the hall, into a deserted corridor. Opening the nearest door, she crept to the French Windows and unlocked them.
Her task done, the Green Man's newest agent slipped from the room. Now it was time for the Green Man to work.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

The Law of the Green Man: Part Four

The Green Man smiled at the 'phone. In the tower room that was his secret headquarters, he could see pictures of both Lady Sylvia and Ms. Madison. The amazing technology of the control room allowed him to converse with his secretary and agent, although the former was in Bermuda.

"Sir Harold Rait," the Green Man continued, "fits what I know about the Leech: that he is wealthy and has profited from blackmail by more than simply bleeding his victims. We also know that I planted a story on Sir Harold."

"What more do we need to know, then?" Lady Sylvia asked. "This swine tried to blackmail my brother..."

"The Leech could simply be close to Sir Harold," Ms. Madison explained. "We don't know whether Sir Harold told someone at his club - after all, he learned the information from a planted person at the club. We don't want to harm an innocent man any more than we have to."

"That sounds a little bit ruthless," Lady Sylvia pointed out.

"It is," Ms. Madison shot back. "But the Leech is one of the most evil men we know of. He has to be destroyed. That is why you will be attending a reception at Sir Harold's house tonight."

"Last time I went to a party for the Green Man," the aristocrat sighed, "I got biffed on the bean."

"But this time," the Green Man reassured her, "you will attend. No more. All you have to do is create a distraction. I will do the rest."

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Law of the Green Man: Part Three

"Sir Harold Rait," the Green Man explained, "is not the respectable gentleman and industrialist he pretends to be. He is, in reality, the most monstrous and cunning villain."

"What..." Lady Sylvia breathed, disbelieveing.

"Sir Harold bought his first business with money extorted from a number of people," the Green Man told his young assistant. "The man who sold him the business was one of them. You see, Sir Harold Rait has another name. He is the Leech, the most deadly and evil blackmailer in history. He has the blood of dozens of people on his hands. One young woman killed herself on her wedding day, while a senior military officer shot himself on the day his son graduated from Sandhurst."

"How do you know Sir Harold's the Leech?" Lady Sylvia enquired.
"A planted story about your brother, Lord Ambrose Vaughan," the Green Man chuckled. "I had seven suspects, and gave each one a different compromising story about someone. The one about Lord Ambrose was the one Sir Harold got. The fact that he did not close his safe makes it even more likely. By the end of this week, I will know for certain."

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The Law of the Green Man: Part Two

Sir Harold looked at the 'phone for a long time after it fell silent. His heart was pounding, his throat dry as sandpaper. He could scarcely believe his ears. But there it was - he had been threatened in his own home!

Sir Harold dialled the number of the local Police Station feverishly. As the 'phone rang, however, he gave up, slamming down the 'phone.

From the Golf Course at the end of the park, Lady Sylvia Vaughan laid down her binoculars, a sweet smile on her face. Turning away from the mansion, she picked up her 'phone and pressed the dark green button that connected to the ever-changing number of the Green Man.

"Hi," the voice of Ms. Madison came down the 'phone. "You're through to the Green Man. Can I take the name of a person who needs to suffer?"

"Hullo, Lynette," Lady Sylvia laughed. "I'm calling from outside Harold Rait's place. Put me through."

"Wilco," Ms. Madison pressed a button.

"Lady Sylvia," the Green Man spoke. "How did he react?"
"He didn't call the Police," Lady Sylvia replied. "I was a bit surprised."
"I am not," the Green Man called the shocked aristocrat. "You see, I know the truth about Sir Harold Rait."

Monday, March 19, 2007

The Law of the Green Man: Part One

Sir Harold Rait, industrialist and statesman, looked out across the lawn of his mansion, one hand on his broad walnut desk. Life, he thought, was good. He was wealthy, possessed of a thriving company and recently appointed Government Emissary to the World Disarmament Conference. And his under-the-counter business was doing even better.

His 'phone rang, and Sir Harold picked it up.

"Rait," he announced in clipped tones.

"Mr. Rait," a female voice came down the line, "this is Julia, calling from Pudding Norton Provident. We received a call today saying you were dead."
"That's insane!" Rait cried, "how...?"
"Anyone can make a call," the girl told him. "But there was an error in the date she gave. It was a week from today. In the future."
"Just a prank," Rait dismissed it, before hanging up curtly. Moments later, the 'phone rang again. Sir Harold picked it up impatiently.
"Rait," he announced once more.
"Harold Rait, blackmailer and murderer," a harsh male voice cut through the air. "Next time, do not cancel the instruction. In a week's time, you will be dead."

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Crooks' Tours: Part Twenty

The Green Man, with Lady Sylvia by his side, examined the shattered ruins of the Castle. The girl shook her head sadly.

"Such a wonderful building," she observed, "another treasure of old England lost."

"I know," the Green Man shook his head. "But when the wicked touch lovely things, they can get dreadfully broken. Coote has paid for his crimes. Permanently."

"I still think dumping him in the River Wensum with a thirty large and heavy pieces of silver in his pockets was a bit mean."

"He was a master of the legal system," the Green Man replied. "He would have been able to escape with a light sentence, even with the evidence you could have supplied."

"Oh, I know," Lady Sylvia laughed, "I guess it's just nerves. I mean, this is only my second case..."

"And may there be many more," the Green Man nodded. "A wire from Ms. Madison arrived at the Post Office this morning. Apparently she's on her way back from her holiday via a few of the more obscure places in the tropics. I'll be meeting her in Central Africa - you can come too, if you like."

"Why not?" Lady Sylvia smiled breezily. "It beats pretending to work for a living, and my brother can stop badgering me, too."

"Everyone's a winner," the Green Man conceded. "But before we go, there's a little unfinished business I have to attend to, here in Britain."

Friday, March 16, 2007

Crooks' Tours: Part Nineteen

As the Green Man plunged into the blazing structure, timbers falling all around him. Only his fire-proofed coat, hat and mask kept him from being seriously burned. Once packed with wicked men, the house was empty now. Any sensible man would have backed away, but the Green Man was made of sterner stuff. Plunging through the furnace, the Green Man searched for the door to the secondary control room.
When at last he located it, the door turned out to be locked solid. Drawing his gun, the avenger of evil shot out the lock, before hurrying into the control room.
If the rest of the house was blazing from end to end, the control room remained quite undamaged, proofed against everything, prsumably so as to allow the missile to be launched even if the castle was under siege. The destruct button was there, if only he could find it!
Although safe from the flames, the Green Man could still feel the heat, documents in the wall-cabinets bursting into flames. The Green Man mopped his brow, as he busied himself about his work. There was a thoroughness in the Green Man's search, for he knew there would be no second chances.
At last, the Green Man found a small red button. Pressing it, he saw the missile's trace fade from the scanner. London, at least, was safe, for the rocket must have detonated in the upper atmosphere.

Turning to the door, the Green Man hurried back through the blazing building, an almost suicidal act. But the Green Man was nothing if not fearless. Plunging through the inferno, the Green Man emerged from the building, smoke-blackened, short of breath, but indisputably alive.
"London's safe," he told the Outsider.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Crooks' Tours: Part Eighteen

As flames spread over the mansion, the Green Man leapt for the control panel, feverishly searching for a destruct button. The Outsider hurried to another control, joining in the search. As smoke began to pour into the room, they redoubled their efforts.

"What sort of a supervillain gets a lair that catches fire when he launches his pet nuke?" the Outsider demanded.

"The sort who wants to conceal the evidence," the Green Man replied. "Any sign of a destruct switch, Outsider?"

"Nope," the Outsider shrugged, "shall we get out?"

"We can't!" the Green Man redoubled his efforts, "if that missile reaches London, millions could die!"

"And if we stay too long, Lady Sylvia's likely to join them!" The Outsider exclaimed hotly.

"What have you done?" the door burst open to admit Marcus Coote, a gun in his hand. He drew a bead on the Green Man, only to have one of the Outsider's crossbow bolts pin him to the wall.

"It was your boss," the Green Man replied. "But the flames will still serve as a means of vengeance. Collect Lady Sylvia, Outsider, while we leave Mr. Coote here to burn."

"No!" Coote blanched, "don't kill me! Don't let me die!"

"Then tell me where the destruct switch is!" the Green Man grabbed the lawyer by the throat, "or I'll leave you here!"

"In the secondary control room, by the tower!" Coote yelled, "but it's an inferno in there!"

"I know!" the Green Man cried, "but I have to try!"

The Green Man ran from the room, leaving the Outsider to free Coote, before leading the corrupt lawyer, carrying Lady Sylvia, out of the building. Turning, Emily Fairbain saw the castle, ablaze from end to end.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Crooks' Tours: Part Seventeen

Lady Sylvia started forward, only to be stopped by a blow on the jaw from one of the Grey Tabby's minions. As the young aristocrat crumpled to the ground, the Grey Tabby turned on his intercom.

"Set the countdown for five minutes," he instructed someone, "and bring Mr. Coote here."

In the halls of the corridor, the Outsider and the Green Man continued to make mincemeat of the opposition. A number of the Grey Tabby's hired goons turned tail and fled. The Outsider wiped out most of them as well.

"And now for the big prize," the Green Man strode down the cavernous halls of the castle, tracking Lady Sylvia by the radio tracker the brunette had concealed on her.

"Do I get to kill him?" the Outsider asked plaintively.

"Not the main baddie," the Green Man told the young assassin. "As the hero of this story, I get to do that bit."

"Okay," the Outsider saluted, "but I can kill everyone else, can't I?"

"Yes," the Green Man sighed, "and remind me to settle this before I borrow you next time."

"Okay!" the Outsider replied brightly, "let's go in!"

They crashed through the door of the control room. The Grey Tabby turned to face the Green Man, smiling in triumph.

"You have saved Norfolk," he growled, "but you cannot save London!"

As the Grey Tabby sank into the floor, a tube of steel covered the supervillain. At the same time, the rocket motors of the missile engaged. As the missile took off, the backdraft set the castle on fire.

"Great," the Outsider sighed, "we have to save the world and ourselves."

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Crooks' Tours: Part Sixteen

The Green Man paused in the Castle gardens, looking back at his black and smoky ally. The Outsider laughed, looking at the small part of the castle that was visible.

"Do you think there 're many bad guys in there?" Emily asked.

"You're a bloodthirsty little Outsider, aren't you?" the Green Man shook his head. "But probably. Shall we get to work?"

"Sure thing, boss," the Outsider drew her crossbow, before fading from view.

Leaving the Outsider to go her own way, the Green Man strode towards the house, drawing his gun. A sniper drew a bead on the menacing crime-fighter, only to take a crossbow bolt to the chest. This time, when the Green Man crashed through the French Windows, there was only a single man to try and stop him. Gunning the man down, the Green Man moved further into the castle, a slight disturbance in the air behind him indicating the invisible presence of the Outsider.

"You see"" Lady Sylvia turned to the Grey Tabby, smiling, "you can't win against the Green Man."

"Maybe not," the sinister super-criminal laughed, "but I can try." He hit a button on his desk. "Coote, I want you!"
"Coming, master," Coote souned servile.
"And start the countdown," the Grey Tabby added. "London is to be destroyed."

Monday, March 12, 2007

Crooks' Tours: Part Fifteen

"Of course, if you want to die," the Outsider shot down another man at random,2 you can keep attacking this city. In fact, you can be my guest, since I haven't had this many targets in years, but..."

Most of the mercenaries didn't stay for the end of the Outsider's monologue, instead deciding that discretion was the better part of valour and heading for the proverial tall timber. The Outsider finished off those who remained.

"Well done," the Green Man stepped out of the smoke. "Outsider, I think we can leave the main force to Sir Richard Arcos and the Lesser Pudding Yeomanry."

"Do we have to?" the Outsider sounded disappointed. "I was just getting warmed up!"

"I thought you might be," the Green Man led the way out of the city centre, past the carcasses of wrecked houses and public buildings. "But we're not retreating. We have a job to do."

"A job that involves killing people, I hope," the Outsider laughed, sliding a new arrow into her crossbow."

"And saving lives," the Green Man confirmed. "Lady Sylvia is still in the hands of the Grey Tabby, and he still has his nuclear missile."

"So it's off to the castle then?" the Outsider asked, her red eyes glowing gently.

"Where the bad guys live," the Green Man confirmed. "And I shall be awarding useful prizes to the person who takes down the most bad guys."